By Patricia Sellers
August 5, 2008

Did you see WWE Raw Monday night? I did. First time ever. Why? (Good question!) Because Fortune was front and center. Big John Bradshaw Layfield, known as JBL to pro wrestling fans, was hawking our new issue for one reason: His wife, Meredith Whitney, is on the cover.

Whitney, in case you don’t know, is Wall Street’s force of nature. The Oppenheimer analyst has recently knocked billions off the stock-market capitalizations of big banks like Citigroup , Bank of America , Lehman Brothers and UBS this year by predicting huge losses. In the new issue’s entertaining and incisive cover story by my colleague Jon Birger, Whitney predicts even bigger credit losses to come. She says she believes that the U.S. economy is headed into an “early 1980s-style recession.”

Despite the fear she spreads, Whitney is actually a charming character. I met her in February when my colleague Carol Loomis and I invited her to lunch at the Rockefeller Center club. Whitney rushed in late with what seemed like 20 pounds of documents — on her way to meet with clients, she said. Citigroup’s 2007 10-K had just been released, and these two finance nerds (that’s a compliment!) were practically swooning over the 208-page document, which they had both read over the weekend. I sat silently as Loomis lobbed questions and Whitney fired back critiques of Citi, fearlessly. Carol’s story, Can anyone run Citigroup?, appears in this year’s Fortune 500 issue.

Fortune managing editor Andy Serwer, my boss, had never met Whitney until May, when he sat next to her at our Most Powerful Women dinner. And he decided that night, I think, that we need to write about her. Who knew that this would lead to a Fortune cover, a gig on CNBC yesterday with Andy and the Squawk Box crew, and a prominent spot on USA Network’s WWE Raw, the No. 1 weekly series on cable TV.

Last night on Raw, they called Layfield “Mr. Whitney” and dissed him every which way. Given the fact that his wife made Fortune’s cover, maybe he was destined to win last night’s wrestling competition — by falling on his opponent, world heavyweight champion CM Punk, with one second remaining. Do you think this is rigged, or what?

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